ELL Assessment for Linguistic Differences vs. Learning Disabilities
Home Languages Cultures Examples Resources About Us
The Power of linguistically and culturally responsive classroom assessement
Spoken Language
Main Page
Written Language
Home› Languages› Khmer› Spoken Language

Phonological Influences

Khmer speakers may demonstrate the following tendencies when learning English pronunciation:

Khmer English
Sound Substitutions
“k” for “g”
  “v” for “w”
  “f” for “b”
  “t” for “th”

The “r” sound will be approximated as a trill “r”

The trill sounds like a rolling /r/ sound

Omission of sounds

Dropping the final sounds on words ending in “r”, “d”, “g”, “s”, “b”, and “z”.

“Bob” is pronounced as “Bo”.

Distortion of vowel sounds

/e/, / i/, /u/, and /ae/

"head" is pronounced "hed"

"hit" - "hoot"

Source: Battle, 1993

Grammatical Influences

Khmer speakers learning English may omit the following morphological markers:

Khmer English 
Structure Possible Miscue Structure


I have two bird. I have two birds.
To be (is)
He going.
He is going.
Past tense He walk to the store. He walked to the store.
Third person present tense She smile She smiles
Auxiliary verb (do/does) He no like that. He does not like that.
In, at She left 2:00. She left at 2:00.
(‘s) This is the girl brush. This is the girl’s brush.
We go to park. We go to the park.
(she for her) She hair is brown. Her hair is brown.
(he for his) He coat is warm. His coat is warm.

He is gooder.

He is better.

Source: Lowell Public Schools/Harvard University, 1999-2000 unpublished

There is a nonproductive morphology whereby prefixes and infixes can, for example, derive causative type verbs from simple verbs ("push down" from "go down," "put to sleep" from "sleep," "teach" from "learn") and reciprocals from simple verbs ("love one another" from "love") or nouns from verbs ("birth" from "be born"), and so on. (UCLA Language Materials Project, n.d.)

Semantic Influences

Khmer speakers may demonstrate the following tendencies when learning English:

Cultural differences expressed through words
Kinds of Words
Gender Unmarked, but distinctions can be made the context of the utterances by using kinds of modifiers that have inherent referential gender, such as words for "son," "daughter," "male," and "female." pronouns such as “him” and “her” mark gender

Inferred by the context “some”, “all” and “two” indicate plurals
Verb tense, aspect and mood Unmarked past, present, and future mark tenses with verbs
Personal Pronouns Has a vast amount of personal pronouns which indicate social standing, age, and level of personal closeness Pronouns mark gender only

Pragmatic Influences

Khmer American Majority Culture
Does not maintain conversation on a topic for 2-3 conversational turns. Khmer cultural styles/logic are circular in contrast to the liner style used in English

IMPLICATION: Child may seem to digress from the topic or add what appear to be irrelevant details from a majority cultural perspective.

The Khmer-background child does not seek out clarification when the information is unclear. IMPLICATION: The child may display a tendency not to ask relevant questions For example a Khmer-background child who has listened to the teacher’s directions but does not understand them will not ask for clarification and, therefore, does not do anything.
Khmer is a non-tonal language. It does not change rate, tone, or prosody* of the language utterance. IMPLICATION: The child may speak or read in a monotone voice.
Turn taking in conversation is not used. IMPLICATION: May show difficulty with the expectation to take turns during conversation.
Children show respect by avoiding eye contact thus looking down or away when talking to parents, teachers or other adults. IMPLICATION: Teachers or administrators viewing this through the eyes of the U.S. majority-cultural perspective may assume that such behavior demonstrates lack of interest, attention or respect. For the unknown observer this may also be misinterpreted as a sign of a disability such as ADHD, pervasive developmental disorder or autism.

* "The study of the metrical structure of verse” (The American heritage dictionary, 2000).

©2005 Maria de Lourdes Serpa.
All Rights Reserved. Term of Use
Home | Languages | Cultures | Examples | Resources | About Us | Site Map Lesley University